• Rachel Van't Land

Finding the right question

Updated: Dec 14, 2018


The best answers come from the people your organization serves.

After four months of research, our team still didn’t have anything to deliver to our nonprofit client. We hadn’t even decided what our deliverable was going to be. Some of our team members seemed at ease with the process. A few of us (including me) were getting antsy.


Our AIGA Changemakers Series team had spent the summer immersed in pro bono work with the Seattle chapter of Juma, a national nonprofit that creates jobs and teaches career and life skills to opportunity youth. Juma came to our team asking “How might we better serve our youth through increased engagement with the Seattle community?”


Using the design thinking framework, our team dug into research, reading through existing materials and interviewing national executives, community partners, board members, career coaches, and the youth themselves. We held focus groups and brainstorming sessions fueled by dozens of homemade cookies (thanks, Amy!) and mapped out the youth journey, from learning about Juma through finding a solid career path and having savings in the bank.



Old school brainstorming session, complete with whiteboard and piles of sticky notes.

And yet, we still weren’t sure how to best help the organization.


Coming back to the original question of “How might we better serve our youth through increased engagement with the Seattle community?” we we realized that “engage” could mean so many things. Do we focus on raising awareness and engaging youth to apply for jobs? Or helping them engage in the career and financial literacy training? Or is it a matter of engaging corporate sponsors and community organizations to strengthen those partnerships?


When no clear answer emerged, we realized we were asking the wrong question. So we raised a new one: How might we better better engage with the Seattle community to reach more youth?


The difference was subtle, but it gave us a way in. Finally, after a process that resembled the flight path of a bumblebee, we had a path to delivering something that could help.


Using the design thinking framework: messy, but necessary.

We knew from our research that most of the youth in the program initially heard about Juma from flyers. We had also learned which aspects of the program most captured their interest, and what they wish they had known going in.


Looking at the current flyers, we could see that the messaging didn’t match what the most promising youth told us they were looking for—so they weren’t attracting the youth who were most likely to succeed in the program.


We drafted different headline options and ran them by some of the most active Juma youth, asking for their reactions and feedback. Certain words and ideas resonated more than others. Then Connor, one of the youth, proposed an entirely new headline: The job you want. The future you create.


That became the headline in a new recruitment toolkit, supported by other targeted messages, a simplified application process, and an eye-catching design that featured photography of other participants.


The toolkit included templates that both the local and national teams could easily modify and print themselves on a shoestring budget. We also printed business cards with key program information for their career coaches to hand out at job fairs.



Recruiting toolkit for Juma.


Once we posed the right question and turned to the youth themselves for the answer, the answer on how to execute came quickly.


Right question, right people


Spinning our wheels on a project doesn’t just mean we haven’t found the right answer. In most cases, it means we haven’t asked the right question yet. By stepping back, revisiting the research, and coming back again and again to the people we ultimately serve, the right question—and answer—will emerge. And when it does, we’re truly positioned to do the work that will have the biggest impact.



©2018 by Suncatcher Copy